Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Snaps 3

Friday night was the Depeche Mode concert (as blogged yesterday)

This pic shows how 'close' we were to the stage...

...almost needed oxygen!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blasphemous Rumour

Last night we (Si & me) were at the Depeche Mode concert in Düsseldorf. It's the first concert we've been to in Germany and probably the first we've been to since seeing DM in Manchester about 4 years ago.

Concerts here are different to how I remember them in the UK (open air festival style excluded) here there are people wandering up and down in the seating selling caipirinha cocktails (there was also the odd ice cream seller) and you can take your beer in with you & your plate of chips. There was surprisingly a no smoking rule (only because the roof was closed - thank god) but this didn't stop the guy next to us lighting up!

Depeche Mode have been in existence since 1980 and apart from being Simon's favourite band (he has everything they've recorded in one form or another - vinyl, 12inches and cd's) have a special place in my affections. Back in January 1988 Simon asked me to go and see Depeche Mode in concert in Birmingham (their 'Music for the Masses' tour) and it was this (and the treating me to a cornetto during the concert*) that made me realise his intentions were more than that of a friend!

So, last night's concert...was good. The accoustics were shite (concrete and glass football arena with a retractable roof, no chance) and we were so so high up I could nearly touch the roof but the sheer energy that Dave Gahan (pronounced Gaan, but the Germans struggle with this and want to say 'Ga-han' which makes me snigger dreadfully) at the age of 47 exudes is amazing. He was bouncing around the stage for 2 whole hours. There was very little chatter with the crowd, nothing really more than 'helloooooooo' and 'thankyou' but then again why should there be? We were there to be sung to, and we were.
It was back to back songs, although the Germans post concert were complaining that this song wasn't played or that one, but this is a band who've been making music for 20 years, 12 albums worth of material to choose from, it's impossible for them to play every hit.
The Germans were also complaining that there was only 1 encore. I hadn't expected any more (because I'd seen on the internet that all the previous concerts only had 1 encore, so why should Düsseldorf be any different?) and in total they were playing to us for 2 hours, is more really necessary?
Another complaint I've seen is that the beginning of the final song 'Personal Jesus' was too slow, I thought it was great, a few weeks ago they played the Albert Hall (which is where the link is from) and played the same arrangement, it's what I call 'dirty country', loving it!

There were some real die hard fans there, who'd obviously been to lots of the other concerts on the same tour (it started last May) in the 'pit' area to the front of the stage during one song (Policy of Truth) there appeared lots of balloons, floating around above the heads of the audience (don't ask me why) but there were enough of them throughout the arena that it was clearly something that those in the know, know to do. Then in the first song of the (1) encore Martin Gore (who looks to me like a fallen angel, he has an angelic halo of yellow/blonde pin curls but dresses like the rock star that he is - black/silver/leather/wasitcoat ensemble) sang solo 'Dressed in Black' and suddenly there were sparklers alit in the arena (couldn't imagine that being allowed to happen in a UK concert either).

All in all a great night out!
* apparently I'm a cheap date, but expensive to live with.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A new definition of Pilates

Pilates = torture

Trust me.

For the third week in a row, our pilates 'teacher' (I personally prefer to apply the word 'tormenter' to her) inflicted 90 minutes of exquisite pain upon us.

How can lying down on your stomach (with your belly button hauled as far back towards your spine as your can get it and your pelvic floor pulled upwards until it seems to be touching your diaphragm - this is known in pilates circles as 'zip and hollow'...I'm sure there's a good reason...but I haven't heard our Tormenter using the word 'reißverschluss') anyway, how can lying on your stomach shrugging, be exercise? And how come my inner thighs hurt?

I'm not joking, one of the exercises today was lying face down with our faces half smothered in a special pilates asphixiater (pillow) which meant all the Tormenter's words were very muffled, and we were shrugging, rolling our shoulders up and back down...and I know that I was doing it right because she came and corrected me! After that we swam, on the floor, front crawl. I never knew I was so good at crawl! I usually sink after a metre or so but today I was going strong, powering my way along...

This lying down, shrugging malarkey came after exercises on the wobbly pancake, sorry 'pilates wobble cushion'. Not that dissimiliar to the swiss ball in its ability to make my life hell but at least I was a lot closer to the ground this week should it decide to upend me onto the floor.
We started off sitting on the wobbly plate from hell 'stabilising' ourselves (!) and then we had to lie back, still with our bottoms on the cushion, fine, so far so....wobbly. Then we were lifting legs up to our stomach (not at the same time thank goodness) then the arms had to move at the same time (those arms that had been spread as wide as possible, fingernails gripping the wooden floor in a vain attempt to keep from wobbling over, yeah, I know I was in a horizontal position on the floor but trust me, it is still possible to fall off) but then came the pièce de resistance, both legs in the air, 90 degree angle, bent at the knee, and rotate one out to the side, while keeping the pelvis flat and motionless. Motionless? On a wobbly disc? Is that even possible?
She who must be obeyed came over and told me that I needed to keep my pelvis still, I told her it was not possible and she replied that that was the whole 'art' of the exercise!
Art my arse!

I wonder what new form of torture she's thinking up for next week...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meddling, Olympic style

I'm no big fan of sports (unlike Simon who as previously noted will watch pretty much any sport on TV that involves a ball or wheels...that's most sports covered isn't it? He doesn't do horse racing or darts or bowls or women's anything but other than that, if it's competitive he'll watch it) My sporting interest is restricted to commenting on the silly names of players, the attractiveness of the kit, and an occasional forced comment about a goal or tackle (always prefaced by "look at this 'Rena, watch this").

This all changes of course when the Olympics are on (I am also partial to a bit of Wimbledon (but that is the ONLY tennis I will watch) the boat race (you half hope one of them will sink like in 1978) the Grand National, Formula One motor races and maybe (if I'm really bored on that Sunday morning) the London Marathon) I have zero interest in football or rugby or cricket (however I am quite likely to be watching a bit of footie this summer seeing as it's the world cup, and as it runs from June 11 until there's just one team standing (July 11 - oh god, a whole month of football...) it's going to be hard to miss, seeing as both England and Germany have qualified)

BUT when the Olympics start it's hard to resist the almost 24 hour coverage of sports you've never heard of, and suddenly you're an expert on all manner of obscure sports...

At the moment it's the winter Olympics in Vancouver and after getting over our incredulity at how anyone would want to hurl themselves down a tube of sheet ice in a fragile metal bullet with their teammates, let alone do the same thing but on what is little more than a tea tray, we've discovered Ski Cross. We watched the men's races earlier this week and then the women's. It's mad! Quite, quite mad, if you saw any of the BMX racing at the last summer Olympics that would give you an idea of what to's supposed to be a mix of downhill time trial and freestyle skiing and is supposed to be a non contact sport, although the number of elbows that were flying about you'd have thought the Germans were there! After watching both the men's and women's heats and finals Si & I are now of course experts in this new sport of Ski Cross, discussing the chances (or lack of) of the women actually getting over the first two very steep Wu Tangs (like a vertical ramp that they have to get up, in order to jump off of) - a couple of the women fell backwards off the almost top, having not had enough forward momentum to propel them upwards. Then Si got very technical, expounding the 'how to go faster theory' by compressing the jump...what? Apparently you go faster on the slippery snow than in the air so the longer you are in the air during a jump the slower your time...

Unfortunately Ski Cross is finished with so we'll have to find another sport to become sofa experts in...what to choose... slalom, bobsleigh (nutters), curling (yawn), freestyle skiing (could well provide entertainment), ice hockey (double yawn), speed skating (possibilities) and snowboarding...think it's going to have to be slalom and snowboarding then!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another Anomaly

A pet peeve of us expats (or the mothers at least) is the German concept of 'duty of care' with regard to schooling.

The children wander to school alone, wander around the school grounds alone (fine for older kids but 6 year olds fresh out of kindergarten?) manage to come home themselves if they so choose, missing lessons if they want and no-one seems to bat an eyelid.

One day last week Ben (12 but with the attitude of a teen) turned up just after 11am when he should have been in school until 2.10pm, this was because their physics teacher was ill so instead of physics they had English and then as he doesn't do religion he came straight home (friend in tow who had been unable to get hold of his own mother - not surprising really seeing as they were more than 2 hours early) No warning, nothing. They just send the kids home, no relief teachers, just a gap in the timetable and in their education.

So imagine my surprise yesterday when I had a call from Ben asking if he was allowed to walk home from the station...they'd been to the next village along for 6 or so hours of a reading out loud competition (yawn, the Germans seem to prize highly the skills of reading out loud and copying out texts) I'd been expecting him home around 3pm and at 3 he rang;

'mom, is it ok for me to walk home from the station?'
'er, yeah...'
'well, can you tell my teacher then please'

and I was handed over to Frau Nierhaus who explained that it was procedure....

er, what?

How come just a week ago they were happy to let my child wander home to a possibly empty house that he doesn't have a key for and yet this week they have to ring and check that it's ok for him to walk home from the station instead of walking back to school and then home from school.

They're bonkers these Germans, utterly bonkers!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Speed kills

oops I dun it again.

Got flashed by a speed camera that is...damn! Caught doing maybe 40kph in a 30 zone, oops!

The last time I got caught was on the A42 over a year ago, in my defence it was dark (they don't believe in street lighting on motorways here, bizarre) and it was a stretch with contraflow that when I'd been along it every other day during the previous week had been bumper to bumper stau (traffic jam) and so the fastest I'd ever gone there was 20!

At least here being caught speeding tends to mean a fine rather than a fine and points and what's more the fine is tiny!
15euros for up to 11k over, 20 for 12k over, apparently you have to be doing over 20k more than the limit to warrant points as well as a fine.

Now I just have to sit and wait for the pretty picture to turn up demanding money, there's no chance here of pretending your other half was driving in order to avoid hitting the top of your points (like I know a friend in the UK has done - it's OK, I wont mention your name....yet, maybe in another blog)

The irony of this is that Rebecca and I were only chatting in her car as we sped on our way to the shops about the speed trap that keeps popping up on that particular road - she was done there within months of moving to the area, but at least she hasn't had the car towed like her darling husband has (parked in the wrong place for too long at the wrong time - an expensive mistake to make, especially if you have to get a taxi all the way over to the pound)

The other irony of this is that Si was only blitzt (as we locals say) last week, called me asking if I knew what the limit was on a certain road in Essen (yeah, 'cos I'm a veritable mine of useless information me) however I was able to deduce that it was 50, it tends to be 30 in areas of housing, 50 when it's not residential, 70 for more open areas and then you're onto Autobahn limits which can be 100, 120 or 'as fast as you like'. He'd been doing 60, so 15euro fine. Ben and I had laughed and laughed at his misfortune that evening (how very German of us) so obviously I haven't told him about getting blitzt yesterday and Jas didn't notice the pretty red light flash at us, so my secret is safe, until the letter arrives which will be addressed to him as the owner of the car...shall have to start opening his mail, good job he's often away with work eh?!

And finally, last week an Austrian funeral home parked a hearse at an infamous accident blackspot;
the message on it translates as 'we're always ready for you'.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Aufwiedersehen Winter

Is it really over?

Can it be true?

Dare I believe it?

Look what I saw yesterday...

Surely the first sign of spring?

Admittedly here the snow drops (Schneeglöckchen = little snowbells) aren't quite the same as those back in England, they're a bit more pointy here, the bluebells are a bit odd here too and when you try to describe the carpets of bluebells that appear in some woods in the UK, you get a strange blank look, so that clearly doesn't happen here.

The weather today is positively balmy (as in tropical temperatures not as in 'nutty as a fruitcake' - although that doesn't make sense does it? Nutty as a fruit fantabulous Christmas cake was definitely fruity but there was not a nut in sight (apart from the almonds in the marzipan that is) so how can something be as nutty as a fruit cake? Maybe one has to be more specific about the type of fruit cake - Dundee for instance has lots of nuts on the top...) anyway, today is warm (in comparison to the sub zero temperatures we've been suffering anyway) it's 11 degrees out there and I'm sitting here with my window wide open, bliss.

There was no frost overnight which meant that I was finally able to go running for the first time in weeks and weeks - Logan was so pleased (not! He's such an idle hound) Normally when I get his lead out he starts almost dancing around me in glee, but not today, he might be daft but he has remarkable clothing awareness for a male dog. He can tell the difference between pyjamas (clearly not going walkies in those) jeans (high walkies possibility) and running gear (you can almost hear him thinking, 'crap, I get to go out but the crazy cow is going to drag me along on the end of my lead and I'll be lucky if I get to stop for a wee and a poo let alone drink in the river or scrounge for food') I'll give him credit though, he doesn't run and hide - it must be love!

It felt good to be out running again, feels even better now, several hours later, 5 minutes into it and I was knackered! Fortunately after that comes the nice downhill bit and then along the river. Might even go again tomorrow as long as I don't wake up to rain...

I do think it might be too early to pack away my winter woollies and boots though, but on the up side that does mean I don't have to start shaving my legs and painting my toenails again just yet!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Snaps 2

This is my favorite roofing company here in Kettwig, it tickles me every time I see the van!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

and another thing...

Why does my neighbour (elderly gentleman goes by the name of Herr Doktor Bartels) insist on feeding my dog (who is a walking dustbin)?

Logan loves my neighbour, I swear the stupid dog can hear H.D.B's garage door opening from inside our house (the 2 houses aren't attached) and knows that that signals the imminent arrival of H.D.B in his garden and therefore the possibility of food (Logan might be very blonde when it comes to intelligence, but when it comes to scavenging he's an A star student)

Logan will stand on his back legs at the one point of our garden where the 6foot wooden fencing gives way to 4foot metal fencing over the drive and cranes his upper body around (crushing the plants beneath his heavy paws) in order to greet his BF. He's such a traitorous hound, will do literally anything for food.

So today H.D.B has just returned from where ever and Logan has received a treat of cheese, despite the fact that H.B.D commented to Jas (currently rollerskating round the outside of the house) that Logan's fat!

The poor dog is on diet dog food to try to reduce his waist line and my damn neighbour goes and feeds him cheese!

I'm not amused.

Maybe I should invest in a sign;


Friday, February 19, 2010

The Sex God

We went to Lulus last night as threatened, the plan had been to go because the 3rd Thursday of the month is English practice night for the locals (it's hosted by the local language school) and we had intended to join the Germans who were trying to improve their English, but we never made it away from the bar...we'd probably have been too raucous for them anyway.

Kamesh presented us with a dilemma last night, he's going home (India) on business (8 days away and only 4 days work - does apparently count as business) and whilst there he'll be seeing his parents who he hasn't seen for 6 months. So he's suddenly decided he should take a present for his mom and what should he take...

After we recovered from our annoyance that we'd been done out of a shopping trip with someone else's money (the best kind) we started coming up with suggestions and then found out that not only is Kamesh on a team building trip today (paint balling - how is that team building? Shooting at your friends and colleagues, doesn't seem very friendly to me) and so wont actually have time to do any shopping, but his flight leaves just before 7am on Saturday...which kind of leaves him with just the airport shops...I do worry just what kind of present his poor mother is going to receive!

Ian had come to Lulus straight from the gym where he'd done his workout and then sauna'd. The Germans of course take the sauna seriously, they like to stoke up the heat, add lots of essential oils and then sit on the burning hot benches with nothing but a miniscule piece of towelling to protect their cheeks from a scorching. They do it naked and mixed (although we're meant to believe that Ian retains his British decorum by staying safely wrapped in his larger than your average sauna towel) However, in the Ukraine the art of sauna is taken even more seriously (Rebecca's husband is there on business regularly and gets taken to the 'baths' when he's there) they're not content with steaming away their life force with heat, oh no, after the heat they then beat each other with birch twigs...Sam refused to go on his last trip (to the baths, not on the actual business trip) because his colleague threatened him with a new venue which he was really proud of because it has professional beaters!!

Somehow or other we got onto the subject of names...I can't for the life of me remember how...or why...but one thing's for sure, Kamesh is going to rue the day he told us that his name translates as,

Sex God

We howled with laughter as he continued to explain that the 'Kama' in 'Kama Sutra' means sex, but it did lead us to wonder why on earth anyone would name their baby boy 'sex god'...wishful thinking or a family name?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pilates Thursday

Pilates is supposed to be really good for you. It's designed to elongate, strengthen and restore the body to balance.

It's also supposed to be one of the safest forms of exercise today, I guess because there's no impact on joints, nothing getting bounced about unlike running and step.

This probably goes some way to explaining the age group of my pilates class, I'm fairly confident that Rebecca and I are the youngest there, I can't imagine some of these ladies doing our step class.

So if pilates is so good for you and so safe, why is it so damn hard?

This week at least there was no swiss ball awaiting us. Oh no, the teacher had another form of torture lined up, the roll. A dense foam roll 6inches diameter, and about 36inches long that we had to lie on, fine, I can do that I thought, no problem, gotta be easier than the damn ball last week...
And yes, I could lie on it, but then we had to have our arms up over our heads, hands resting on the floor (and not trying to grip the mat Verena) as we lifted a leg, knee bent and circled it in towards our chest and back down to the floor, mmmm, a bit wobbly there, changed legs, still OKish. But then we had to rotate the arms up so that the knee was over the stomach at the same time as the arms didn't take long before there was a kind of pinging sound as my roll shot sideways from beneath my wobbling torso and rebounded off a conveniently located pillar (otherwise it would have hit the woman to my left, who had no such difficulties with her balance on a bit of foam). I did the rest of the roller exercises from the safety of the mat, studiously ignoring the foam roll - a good job too as the exercise that followed required lifting a bent leg and rotating it to the side, whilst circling the arms...much safer on the floor!

The ignominy didn't end with the roller though, oh no. After a bit more floor work we were upright and balancing on one leg, it was going up and down and then side to side...I was very tempted to hang onto the pillar next to me but instead I was advised to look up (instead of frowning in concentration at the floor) and hold some 'air cushions' instead - which makes you look as though you're driving an imaginary car (whilst balancing on one leg obviously...)

So much of pilates makes me feel like an old guy that Rebecca and I see in the woods here, most days he's at a beautiful place in the woods, where the trees part and there is a great view out and down along the river to the next village, there's a bench there (so that you can sit and enjoy said view). This old guy, appropriately dressed in a tracksuit, uses the back of the bench for isometric style exercises, he swings his legs vigorously backwards and forwards whilst holding onto the bench and then stands swinging his arms around and around in circles. Rebecca had the misfortune to come across this guy one morning whilst walking Oscar while he (man not dog) was taking a toilet least she thinks that's what he was doing, her predominant memory of the event was of being flashed by an elderly gentleman...

As I was saying, pilates makes me feel as though I'm doing isometric execises, this can't be right can it? I must be missing something...afterall Joseph Pilates is quoted as saying;

In ten lessons you'll feel the difference,
in twenty lessons you'll see the difference,
and in thirty lessons you'll have a new body

So I shall hang on in there until I'm convinced that I'm doing it right!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

An expat moment

My monthly social calendar has two important dates I hate to miss;

- first Friday is the English bookgroup at Le Chat Noir
- second Thursday is expats at Lulu's Bar

Both events are marked by their gossip and their alcohol consumption. At the cat we tend to drink red wine (you'd think French red would be the obvious choice but it tends to be Spanish - last time we made a huge error and drank the 'bio' tempranillo which resulted in sore heads, definitely not due to the amount we'd drunk) and at Lulu's we have a very bad martini habit - it's their fauly, they offer a great choice of martinis - there's the russkatini, the chocolatini, the saketini, the fuzzytini, and many more (we've worked our way through the list and know our favourites, have avoided the non-alcoholic one though)

So last Thursday was expats, and in total we were seven, 2 yanks, 1 indian and 4 brits. A decent turnout considering the crappy snowy weather and the slowness of the normally efficient public transport system.

We talked about the pros and cons of skiing vs. snowboarding - Kamesh had just been skiing for the 1st time & Dawn was going home to pack for a weekend of snowboarding.
Spent some time giggling about the fact that Rebecca's back doctor (who has a sideline in botox and liposuction) was sat with some friends and his wife just across the bar from us.
Discussed Karneval (thursday was weiberfastnacht, which is the women's day in Karneval, when men wearing ties run the very real risk of getting them cut off) and whether we like the idea of enforced jolity...
The film 'Sliding Doors' with Gwyneth Paltrow made a good subject, the idea that there might be a point in your life where the choice you make dramatically changes your future and from then on there's maybe a parallel you.
Sport of course got a mention, where to watch rugby (my house!) and the organising of bbq's for the world cup football this summer, importantly the Germany - Australia game on the opening day, we Brits are expecting the Germans to hammer the Aussies...Kamesh is promising to bring a crate a Fosters as long as we've got some shrimps on the barbie!

We're plotting an extra visit to Lulu's - the 3rd thursday (I think) of the month is a regular get together for Germans who want to 'brush up' their English, our plan is to go along and speak fast and maybe use as much slang and as many long words as possible, while Kamesh is planning to to develop a very Indian accent - could be fun! Will report back!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Breakfast treat

We had breakfast out this morning, me and Jas. She doesn't have school today (they have an additional day following on from Rosamontag, Ben is at school though...) and we'd thought to have lunch out but then we changed our minds to breakfast, which is a big deal here in Germany, with croissants, more types of bread roll than you can imagine, cheese, ham, salami, jam, quark and boiled eggs.

Tuesday is market day in Kettwig, with the market set up from the early hours of the morning until just lunch time so I thought (foolishly) that we'd find one of the 5 cafes open and serving breakfast at 8am, afterall it is market day and school starts at 7.50.

As you can see from the photo of our breakfast, we were not successful.
9.30 seemed to be the earliest opening time for breakfast, now I'm sorry but who on earth has breakfast at 9.30? (actually I do know someone) On a week day? (still know someone)
Come on!
If I waited that long for sustenance my stomach would think that my throat had been cut (especially as I would have been up for 3 hours by then - note I didn't say 'awake')
What a crazy idea, or is this just part of the 2-tier breakfast thing that the Germans do? Schools and many large firms have an early morning break that they call 'frühstückpause' (breakfast break) where they'll eat bread, pain chocolate, croissant - basically anything they want, and this comes a mere couple of hours after their breakfast at home.

So, no breakfast in a little cafe, fortunately the bakers were all open (of course) and we were able to get croissants for our breakfast at home, Cafe Evans, the service is reasonable (I'd say it was good but Jas would probably argue otherwise) and it's cheap! Shame I have to tidy up afterwards!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rosamontag & Karneval

Today is Rosamontag here in Germany, it's a kind of bank holiday in that all offices and schools are shut but some of the shops are open although only until 1pm. Quite bizarre, normally if it's a bank holiday EVERYTHING is shut (except for the bakers of course & cafe's & restaurants, oh and the buses and trains all run too...) but the thing is that bank holidays are considered to be 'family time' so you can't go shopping and all the silly quiet rules apply too - no hovering, DIY or mowing the lawn (can't see the damn lawn at the moment, it's under about 3 inches of snow)

Anyway, Rosamontag, the final day of the Karneval season here (which started at 11.11am on November 11th - the Germans insist everything to do with Karneval starts at a 'whacky' time, afterall, Karneval is the time for enforced jollity) there are lots of parades in the area - those in Düsseldorf and Köln are probably the largest and most well known. The parades last for hours
and in order to get a good place to watch the parade you have to get there early, afterall it's not just about watching the spectacle, it's also about the sweeties - the people involved in the parade whether they're walking alongside or actually on the floats constantly bombard the spectators with sweets, bags of popcorn and small toys - it becomes quite a competition between the children to see who can collect the most. And it's not just the people in the parade who dress up either, the majority of those who go to watch are dressed up to some extent - they take having fun very seriously here. And I don't mean they wear a funny hat or a bit of face paint, oh no. Our neighbours for example, last year went to the Düsseldorf Zug dressed as bears (head to toe fake fur outfits - not a bad idea when you consider that today the temperature is -1) the year before they were all mushrooms (the pretty ones, red topped with white spots, not ugly flat topped brown field mushrooms clearly) and I've also seen them in bumble bee outfits, like I said, they take it seriously.

Kettwig has its own little Karneval parade on the Sunday before the big ones, so that was yesterday. We'd planned to go (that is Jas & I had planned to go, Ben at 12 is too cool to be seen to be enjoying himself and Si had an invite to a football game) the Zug was from 2pm, yesterday it snowed all day, snow on top of snow and I informed Jas that there was no way she would be allowed to scrabble in the mud and slush for sweets (having just recovered from a serious bout of gastroenteritius, it seemed like a sensible precaution) so we decided to stay home and watch a film instead (with a family sized bag of maltesers (thanks mom) for company) with the proviso that I would buy her the equivalent amount of sweets that she could have got from the Karneval, except that these would be sweets of her choice.

Is this a sign of how little we've integrated into German society? That we refuse to stand in the freezing cold for 2 hours to try in vain to catch sweets that we don't particularly like? I just like to think that we're intelligent people, able to pick and choose which aspects of this society we want to get involved with and not feel the need to follow the herd - especially if it involves dressing up like a vegetable and standing around in sub zero temperatures.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Snap 1

Have decided that Sunday shall be a day of rest, however I will give you a photo;

This was taken by Simon who's gone to the Schalke - Cologne football match, look very closely at the name on the middle coach at the back of the pic...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A question too far?

Several months ago I had a bizarre telephone conversation with a German who, as far as I can remember wanted to ask me about my opinion of living in the city of Essen.

Fast forward to this year and another odd German phone call, wanting to follow up the questionaire with some more in depth questions, the appointment was made and was Thursday...

He was very punctual, turning up bang on the dot of 4pm as arranged, the dog was very pleased, Logan loves visitors.

The questionaire was all about how people who live here, be they native Germans or migrants from another country, view life and their integration (that of the migrants) in Germany.

It took us 50 minutes to get through the whole thing, he'd said it'd only take 30, but that's probably with people whose German is better than mine, I had to translate some of the silly big words (they do love to 'glue' 2 or 3 words together whenever possible) so I guess that slowed us down.

The questions covered the basics such as our nationality, my parents' nationality, marital status and all that other standard guff (and they always have that one at the end wanting to know what the monthly household income is - I always refuse to answer, why should they know that?)
Then there was;

- do I have a German passport
- no, of course not, I'm British
- if you could adopt German nationality would I?
- no again, I'm British and I like having a queen
- what religion are you?
- he didn't have a box marked 'atheist' unfortunately
- did I think that just teaching kids about christianity in school was fair?
- no
- did I think everyone should be able to believe in their own religion?
- of course, if someone wants to believe there's a teapot in the sky, fine by me
- has anyone ever treated me differently because I'm not German?
- so I told him about the woman who called from his office before he did, who was a right snotty cow (shame I didn't know the Deutsch for snotty cow) & the uppity doctor's receptionist from this week (but she might be horrible to everyone) and the mad woman from the bakers up the road who ALWAYS mishears our order (but it's possible she's deaf)
- what language do I talk to different friends in?
- kind of depends on what nationality they are doesn't it...
- what language do we access newspapers/magazines/TV/internet in?
- English - 'cos your TV's crap (I restrained myself from saying that...)
- where do I feel most at home?
- that'd be here, in my home, durrrrrr
- how much do I enjoy living here?
- very much
- do we plan to live here for ever and ever and ever?
- I pointed out that somewhere warmer might appeal when work is no longer an issue (after all we do have snow on the ground again and it has been minus 4 all day)
- are Christians treated differently to Moslems?
- had to say 'don't know' as I personally haven't witnessed anything, although I would imagine yes.
- should migrants congregate or would it aid integration if they didn't?
- better for integration if they don't congregate but safety in numbers and all that!

So that should give you a feel for the grilling I got, it was fun in a way and a great way to practice my German, which I need at the moment seeing as my teacher has skived off to sunny San Francisco for 3 whole weeks, she really will do anything to avoid Rosamontag and the enforced jollity of Karneval.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Swiss balls

I've never got on very well with swiss balls.

I don't know why it is, maybe they think they're technologically advanced and therefore exist only to annoy me?

Back in the DB days (before dog) when I used to go to the gym regularly to stay in shape (a feat somehow achieved now by walking the dog and by running (also with said dog)) I used to get my gym programme changed regularly by one of the cute little gym bunnies who's job it is to make sure that everyone is doing everything properly and therefore wont sue the gym when they put their back out. I would get bored with a gym routine quite quickly, but even more quickly if the gym bunny had put the swiss ball into the programme for stomach exercises.

I get the point of the wobbly nature of the ball, it's supposed to make you use your core muscles so that you don't fall off the damn thing, so why do I always wobble like a weeble and then inevitably fall off? Do I not have any core muscles? Or do they just not work? It is a clever idea, you use one set of muscles just to stay in the position required and then work another set of muscles while you do whatever exercise you're supposed to - unless of course the ball slips sideways and deposits you on your arse on the's happened so many times to me.

I thought I'd put the swiss ball behind me, in the gym, but no.

This week I've started a pilates class here and the teacher decided to make us use the BALL. Rebecca struggled from the outset as she really needed a smaller ball, but they'd all been bagged by the short arsed German fraus who were there before us (damn the Germans and their punctuality) so Rebecca had to put up with only being able to balance her tippy toes on the floor (at least then she had an excuse for falling off the ball)

The session proceded with the majority of the exercises being done either sitting on the ball, lying over it (both front and back) or with legs balanced precariously on it, I say precariously because we were lying on our backs, legs outstretched with just our heels resting on the ball, fine (just) and then she made us lift a leg off and to the side and then alternate with the other leg...there were many sniggers from mine and Rebecca's mats as our balls kept pinging away from us!

The lady who takes the class is very nice and at the end of it she asked us all how we found it, if this were a class in England then 1 of 2 things would happen;

1. the question wouldn't be asked
2. everyone would smile politely and say it had been 'fine, thankyou' & exit bitching about it under their breath.

Here? Everyone is frank and to the point, the woman who'd had problems with the class last week comlpained that she still had problems, another woman stated that she couldn't do this or this because it gave her a headache and so on, I merely restrained myself to joking that I don't like the swiss ball.

I'm glad I'd managed to position myself where I could watch the teacher's every move though, as I couldn't understand half of what she was saying!!

She promises next week, no balls.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


In Germany we have to pay a 'church tax'.

Unless that is you declare quite firmly to whichever officious person at the council office it is who is in charge of assessing your tax level that you are a NON BELIEVER.

We'd been warned before we went to this meeting and were quite happy to sit there and tick the box marked;

'go straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect £200'

If you're a Catholic this non pament of church tax has further repercussions, should you decide in times of hardship that you can no longer afford to keep on paying for the upkeep of the church and you change your allegiance to that of 'non believer' then you are warned that this does mean that should you be taken seriously ill and be about to die then there will be no last rites for last minute confessions and no burial in sacred ground...
Like I said - straight to hell!
You can of course opt back in if you feel really sick and think you should get your visa for the pearly gates renewed (I hear St Peter's a stickler for correct paprerwork, likes to have all the t's crossed and i's dotted - he's probably German) it's maybe something like having one of those tickets for a theme park that allows you to queue jump - you have to pay extra for that priviledge obviously, although whether the church/state backdates your church tax when you rejoin is not something I know (I don't know many unrelapsed godbotherers).

In school they teach religion on a divisional basis - catholic or protestant (they don't take into account any other religions here, but maybe that's just the area I live in, which is like a Mother's Pride loaf - white, white, white. There may be up to 10 different nationalities in Jas's school but they're all European, and apart from the Italians, all northern european)

In the first week of school Jas should have gone into the protestant class (for some reason they don't have 'church of england'*...curious eh?) but her teacher asked if it was possible for Jas to go into the catholic class as the protestant class was a bit full (I can see protestant being the easier option, religionwise, no guilt, no confession - kind of religionlite)
I had no problem with this, feeling that Jas was strong willed enough to resist the brain washing, the only tricky spots were when friends of hers (proper catholics) started doing the extra classes and courses for their first communion, she felt as though she was missing out on something and I got asked the question by the parents as to why Jas wasn't doing first communion.

This whole thing seems to have come full circle as Jas woke me up between 12 and 1 this morning (a lovely time...not) to tell me that she didn't want to go to church today, at that time of the day, roused from a deep sleep I'll agree to pretty much anything as long as I'm allowed to return to my somnolent state.
Simon this morning got all parental, and asked me why she didn't want to go - it wasn't because there was some creepy priest or something (imagine that, a creepy catholic priest, never heard of one, have you?) I had to confess that I had no idea why (like I was going to go into full Stasi interrogation mode at that time of night, silly man) anyway, it turns out that she finds it boring (what a surprise) and doesn't like the drama afterall!

Ben meanwhile opted out from religion in 4th class and when he moved up to gymnasium continued this, other kids have caught on to this trick which gives you at least 1 free lesson per week when you can either go home early or get your homework done, consequently the numbers of kids doing the religion lessons is dropping significantly.

What out, atheism is contagious!!

*a story I should have told you before; I had the opportunity last week (at bookgroup) to educate a Yank on Henry VIII, his wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) and the beginnings of the church of england - it was great fun, someone who has never studied history, and whose history knowledge comes from fictional accounts and the great god Wiki, telling her version...via a Tempranillo filter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Food Part 2 - a sweet tale

To continue the subject of missing food from yesterday (not food that went missing yesterday but the discussion yesterday of food that I miss...) but moving onto another food group - chocolate and sweets.

Germany has a huge selection of both chocolate and sweets, there are some great independant chocolatiers here selling simply divine pralines and truffles and although you might find that in the bigger cities or the tourist locations in the UK, here?
They're everywhere.
Kettwig has its own little chocolate coffee shop - what could be better than a cafe where the coffee is delicious and you can have 2,3,4 truffles of your choice with your beverage (the owner could be less grumpy admittedly)
The area of Essen where my hairdresser is has a slightly bigger chocolate cafe - where the emphasis is more on the chocolate than the coffee, their hot chocolate is TO DIE FOR and they even have a chocolate fountain...B&J were visibly drooling while they drank their hot chocolates!

Then there's the huge range of Milka chocolate that is available and the Ritter brand, as well as serious grown up bars offering 60/70/80% cocoa solids with chillies/mango/pistachio etc etc etc.

But none of this quite scratches the Cadbury itch that persists - probably due to the fact that 40 years of my life were spent in the Midlands and have been around the Cadbury factory several times (hey, I have 2 children) and was practically weaned on Cadbury Freddo bars and chocolate buttons. There's just something about the smooth chocolatey milkiness of Cadbury chocolate that the German pretenders can't match.

Of the huge range that Cadbury produces in the UK, here we can get the CurlyWurly and the Wunderbar. Not a Crunchie or a bar of Dairy Milk in sight not even a Flake....sigh, and don't mention the sad lack of the Cadbury creme egg...

And now, to add insult to injury they've gone and sold out to the Yanks!

How could they?

How could the British people allow this last bastion of British manufacturing to be gobbled up by the monstrous food giant of Kraft?

And what exactly does Mr Kraft know about chocolate? Their product range goes from cheap and nasty coffee (Mellow Birds anyone?) through to plastic 'cheese' (dairylea) and finally to chocolate (Terry's chocolate orange (which I do have a bit of a liking for) and Toblerone (my dad's big passion).
But Cadbury have been making chocoalte for 2 whole centuries, that's a whole lotta experience there - I just hope Mr Kraft makes use of all that expertise, although I've heard nasty, nasty gossip that some of the brands might get the boot...the CurlyWurly for example having such a small market might vanish...maybe it's time to start laying in supplies!

Although if the finger of fudge is consigned to the history books I wont be sorry, one finger alone is too sweet and sickly for me!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Food Part 1 - a biscuity problem

The other day I was walking in the woods with Rebecca and we fell to discussing food that we can't get here in Germany and that we miss from England.

It started off simply enough, I mentioned that I'd found what looked like Hobnobs in a supermarket here, they're slightly smaller than their original version and not quite as hobby or nobby as they should be, but they fill that space.
This led us onto the dangerous if not treacherous ground of reminiscing over the biscuit possibilities that we've left behind in the UK...

Jaffa cakes - there is a very good German equivalent, but it's not quite right, I think the chocolate is the bit that's wrong.
Custard creams - nothing that even comes close, or those sticky custard creams (sigh) not a chance.
Cadbury chocolate fingers - there are biscuit fingers the same size and packaged in the same manner but I'm sorry, the chocolate just isn't Cadbury's.
Wagon wheels or Tunnocks Tea cakes - no and no.

There are however biscuits and sweet things here that we hadn't discovered before;

Choco Crossies - like little clusters of chocolate coated cornflakes (more chocolate than flake) I can eat a whole (not very big) bag by myself (if I hide them from the children once I've opened them that is).

Chocolate (there's that word again) coated Oreos.

Mikado - kind of like unsalted pretzel sticks coated in...chocolate.

There's lots of other boring and sensible stuff but nothing along the lines of jammy dodgers, bourbons, gingernuts or chocolate digestives, no shortbread (you do occasionally see VERY expensive Scottish shortbread) not even garibaldis (they ought to be a sensible enough biscuit for the Germans to embrace)

With this sad lack of sweet things that we love in mind we're building a list, of food stuffs that we need, the only question remains is who will deliver the goods? Who is coming to visit next? Preferably in a car, it's going to be a LARGE order!!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Vomit Queen is dead, long live the VQ

After 2 weeks of illness Jas is finally back to her normal, bouncy, loud self!

It's been a tough 2 weeks, we've never had a child so ill before.
Ben had chicken really badly when he was about 3 but once he was on antibiotics he was on the mend within hours, it was amazing to see.
But with Jas this has dragged on and on, once the sickness stopped there was still pain, another week of it. Yesterday she was bouncing around the house as we cautiously watched, she slept through the night without needing to disturb us for heating up of the cherry stone pillow (which meant 7 hours unbroken sleep for us, I feel almost human) and she's still bouncing around, demanding food now though, which a week ago wasn't happening - it's sheer bliss to be sitting in the kitchen and to hear her shouts of indignation echoing up from the cellar as she and her brother play 'little big planet'.

The medical system here has been great.

Last Sunday when I told a friend that Jas was not really much better and so I'd be taking her to the doc's she asked me which children's doc we used, she sucked her teeth in disapproval at my answer (she's allowed, as a long time inhabitant of the area, a nurse who's married to an A&E surgeon) and recommended the doc they use.

- That's one of the good things about the health system here, you go to whichever doc you want.
- So I rang them early on Monday and was given an appointment immediately - another great thing about the system here, no waiting until you're half dead, and I didn't have to verbally spar with the receptionist to prove my case.
- the doc was as lovely as my friend had promised and recommended an infusion to rehydrate, which he set up there and then in the practice - wow.
- during the infusion I was offered the chance to ring people to inform them and also of a drink, what great, friendly service.
- as we went home we were told to ring the following day no matter how she was, he wanted to know - wow.
- Friday we were back there as she was still in pain, they did an ultrasound scan there and then in the practice to try to rule out kidney stones. This is a tiny little children's doctor's practice, with 1 doctor and yet they have the facility to do infusions and ultrasound scans, at the drop of a hat, amazing.
- the scan caused a query and the doc wanted it checking by an urologist, they phoned the relevant local clinic/hospital, spoke to the appropriate doc and off we went.
- at that clinic we hit the only fly in the ointment - the doc's receptionist...did we have an appointment? No, our doctor had rung and spoken to the doctor. She didn't like that one bit, and stomped off to check with the doc muttering that she'd have to be admitted (Jas that is, not the Hitlerite receptionist, she just needs committing)...
- the new doc did another ultrasound and ruled out kidney stones and then asked about poo...when was the last time? Jas confessed to 5 days ago (I hadn't thought it odd as she hadn't actually been eating - surely for something to come out something needs to go in first?) and so an enema was administered...immediately!
- we're due back there on Monday afternoon (we have an appointment, so the receptionist will be happy) as the pain disappeared after the success of the enema!
- the original children's doc rang on Saturday morning to ask how Jas was - wow.

If the US wants to do something about its healthcare system they should look to Germany's example which is so much better than that in the UK, here in Germany;
- we can change doctors whenever we want,
- we can get appointments to see the doc on the day we feel ill,
- the practices have a high level of equipment,
- referrals to a specialist are immediate and not subject to a 6 month long waiting list
- doctors take time out of their busy weekends to call and check on your health


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Football crazy, football mad

I loathe and detest football.

I find it utterly boring and tedious in the extreme.

Not unsurprising really as I grew up with a father who actively hated the sport and a brother who would only admit to supporting Aston Villa (the local team) in order to fit in at school.

Shame then that I married a man who LOVES the game and is an ardent Liverpool fan, I hate the days when his team loses, it always puts him in a bad mood and I long for the summer months (not just for the decent weather) when the footie season is over, although this year we'll get hardly any respite from the damn game what with the world cup and all...

Shame for Simon that the apathy towards football is clearly genetic and has been transferred to our son, who finds no interest in either the playing of the sport or the watching of it!

This week the sports writers have been gossiping about whether the captain of the English football team, John Terry, should keep his position after being exposed as having had an affair with a fellow team members ex-girlfriend. Friday afternoon saw him 'being stripped' of the captaincy.

Earlier in the week when the debate over the captaincy was still raging I had a truly bizarre conversation with my father about this matter.

Yeah, that's right, two people who don't give a monkey's about football spending conversational time talking about the game, like I said, it was a bizarre conversation.

Bizarre firstly because we actually talked about football and secondly because of what my dad maybe it's due to sleep deprivation on my part or too many sherries on my dad's but this is how my memory of the conversation goes...

me - well, I think he shouldn't still be captain, he's a role model for so many young boys, they look up to him.

him - they'd all think it's great.

me - exactly, so he shouldn't be captain after what he's done.

him - ah, but you only get one life...

me - ughh?

Like I said, one too any sherries?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Florence NOTingale

I've always known I'd never be good at working within the medical field.

I was very good at A level biology, very good, and passable at degree level Zoology.

Not quite clever enough or with a good enough memory to make the grade as a doctor, and a nurse? Clever enough - yes, compassionate enough - no, add to this a weak stomach that makes me turn away the moment anything even on a TV screen gets the least bit icky - definitely no.

I have never, ever entertained ideas of being a nurse or a doctor, I think somewhere, deep within me I knew that I'm not compassioante enough. It's not that I don't care, it's just that my care gets worn out very quickly...

This week for example. Week 2 of Jas being off school, ill. I know she didn't do it on purpose and I know that she doesn't enjoy being stuck home, inside, too weak to play but after 10 days of having to jump for her every whim....I'm "mommy'd" out.

Fetching glasses of water, ribena, tissues, heating up the cherry stone pillow (great for pain relief) pencil case from school bag, biscuit, name it and I seem to have run and got it over the last 2 weeks. But when I finally started to snap was after having to get up 3 times in a night (2 lots of reheating cherry stone pillow & 1 nose bleed) so I was tired and cranky at breakfast (ok, more cranky than usual) and to then have the refrain of 'mom....can I have...' start before I'd had ANY caffeine wasn't pretty.

How do doctors and nurses do it? They always seem to be so loving and caring, genuinely interested in your welfare, they must be wired differently to me, Florence Nightingale I'm not.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sugar and spice....NOT

What are little girls made of?

The English nursery rhyme goes like this;

What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything that's nice,
That's what little girls are made of.

And from that you're supposed to think that little boys are stinky and dirty, whilst little girls are saccharine sweet (a bit like the Disney Channel).

However, this is just not true. Little girls are mean, spiteful and uncaring, that pretty sugary gloss masks a bitter, heartless core.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the strife Jas was having at school with her group of 'friends', it was all resolved....supposedly.

Jas hasn't been to school for 8 days, she's been too sick (literally) and now she's too weak and it will be Monday (so make that 9 days off school) before she's back (and even then I think I shall have to drive her the 5 minutes walking distance and then collect her as soon as lessons finish (rather than leaving her at school till 4pm for ganztag as is her normal routine)
Yesterday I got the post from the postbox and found an envelope addressed to Jasmine, to be opened only by Jasmine it said, from her friend R, how sweet I thought, how kind. I gave it to Jas who in the weak and pathetic manner that she's been perfecting since starting feel less ill asked me to read it to her, so I did.

Now you know how when you read something in a language that you know inside and out you kind of scan along and you understand what's being written before you've read the words out loud? Well, my German isn't good enough for that to happen, I'm understanding it as I read it and not until I've spoken the word is there necessarily any comprehension...shame really, otherwise I mightn't have read out to Jas what I did.

90%, maybe more of the envelope's contents were sweet and well meaning, get well soon, wear a vest (a German thing) I miss you, blah blah blah. And then the kick in the teeth;

'H says that she doesn't like you and thinks that you can't be friends and B is now on H's side'
and then somewhere else R had written
'H, M, M, B don't like you, but I do'

Wow, how to kick a person when they're down eh? Poor, poor little Jas, sick and at home for 8 days and then to receive that little missive, charming. R might mean well, but a little less honesty might have been better in the circumstances.

There was no option in my mind but to speak the the teacher about this matter , again. He came by today and I think was quite shocked when he actually read the letter. To say things like that anyway are hurtful, but to comit them to paper and deliver them to someone who's sick enough to warrant being off school for 2 weeks...lessons in tact and diplomacy all round methinks.

The upshot is that come Monday when Jas returns to school the class teacher is getting the girls together and will hopefully thrash this matter out until there is no life left in it.

Sugar and spice my foot.

Sourness and spite more like.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


You don't usually catch me wishing I was back at school again, the thought of all that study, all that homework, all those thank you.

But being of school age does have advantages, kids make (and lose) friends so quickly and easily, it's not fair! (can you hear me stamping my foot in frustration?)

Admittedly when I was at school I didn't have a huge circle of friends, if memory serves, from high school onwards there was me, Sarah, Audrey & Joanne + Annette too (sometimes), at Uni there was a similiarly sized group. It seems to be easier to form friendships in educational situations, maybe because the group of you are together for the same reason time and time and time again, work situations may cause alliances to form, but close, blood thicker than water friendships? I doubt it.

I have to confess that I find 'making friends' hard. I think it comes down to my innate shyness - some people who know me would laugh at this, they maybe only see the loud me, the one who appears after the wallflower has had a glass or three of something fortifying.

I detest situations where I have to make social chitter chatter with people I don't know, I'm happier to go along with someone else as moral support, but only if I really can't get out of it. My mind goes blank as it races to find topics of conversation and that's after you've found someone to chat with of course, the ultimate nightmare is to find yourself the only one who doesn't know anyone.

Which is exactly what happens here. Germans don't tend to move far from where they grew up and if they do then they migrate right back again as soon as they can. It's nice*. But it does mean that they all have their friendships from kindergarten, they all know each other and there is no room for anyone else (I know this for a fact as Rebecca was told by a German mother who wanted to use her for English lessons for her kids, that she didn't want to meet up just for coffee and a chat as she 'had enough friends'. Ouch!) Going to any school event (which are few and far between, thank goodness) is hell, because you know you'll look like billy-no-mates as the rest of the moms swarm together, saving seats, sharing secrets.

So how do you go about 'making friends' with a German or two?

I guess I have managed to find a few German friends;
- there's my German teacher, M1(yes, I know she's my teacher (she's only technically German as well, having spent long enough in the UK to have a thorough disrespect for most things German) but I count her as a good friend, after we've been known to shop together)
- there's my crazy friend, M2 (I wont go into the story now, but if you go back to October to 'with friends like these' - that's why she's crazy) I should really call her and arrange to get together but seeing as I'm still housebound with the vomit queen I can't, maybe next week, when/if I get my life back.
- mother of a friend of Ben, B - have met for coffee, and always stop to chat when we bump into one another, guess I need to make more of an effort there!
- mother of another friend of Ben, I - lovely lady, very, very helpful, but not quite my cup of tea, don't quite know what it is...
- mother of a friend of VQ**, V - is French, and quite possibly moving back to France, thanks to her lowlife husband who brought them here in the first place.
- wife of one of Si's colleagues, C - we try to meet once a week for a walk (with Logan) and then coffee, we chat mainly (99%) in English as C spent 5 years living in Canada, this is great for both of us, but doesn't improve my German, but if I've had a week without Simon it's great to have an adult to chat with.

So where do I go from here? How does one make friends with Germans? Maybe I should discover God and join a church...maybe not. Considered joining the running club but I can barely run and talk in English let alone in Geman. I do a step class but there's very little socialising afterwards (actually there's none) and you don't chat during a step class do you? Not if you want to stay on your feet anyway! Am starting a pilates class but I should imagine the same happens there. Maybe there's a basket weaving class I could join...

Oh, and before you think, 'you poor sad cow, you should at your age know how to make friends, get a grip'. It's not just me! Lulu from a blog I read feels the same way, see here.

ps. my sanity is held together by my fantastic English friends; Alison, Jacky & Rebecca (you're in alphabetical order...) because they 'get me'. We have the same reference points, the love of Cadbury chocolate, Fawlty Towers and 80's pop music and I can guarantee they all know the answer to 'it's friday, it's 5 to 5, it's.....***

* I'm not being lazy, I chose this word specifically for its wishywashyness
**VQ = vomit queen, or Jasmine to give her her proper name

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the wrath of 'rena

I had a great chat (on the phone) last night with a very old English friend (she's not very old (being 3 months younger than me) but we've known each other more than half our lives - so she's an old friend), to preserve her anonymity I'll call her W...

The last time we spoke was admittedly before Christmas but when we do get together or get on the phone together it's as though there's no distance (in either time or (space - no that'd be Star Trek wouldn't it?) distance).

We must have chatted for 40 minutes, covering subjects from weather (snow, snow and more snow) to Christmas and New Year, her other half's car accident (he wasn't hurt, well his pride was probably slightly dinged) a child's birthday, a messy relationship and vomit (naturally) and only then after we'd covered pretty much everything from A-Z did she get to the letters M and W, dropping casually into the conversation the BOMBSHELL;

'oh, and we might get married this year'


Conversation screeches to a halt.


I'm so excited! W and her other half, have been engaged since forever (millenium eve to be exact - I can even remember the phone call telling me the news, actually that's a lie, I remember being incredibly hungover and having the phone forced into my hand and up to my ear as I was trying to remain under the duvet in my comatose state) They've moved house 2 (or is it 3) times in that period and had 2 children so it's not as if they're not a settled couple, so this would just be the icing on the cake (wedding cake, naturally, yum).

I'd given up asking 'when are you getting married?' and had decided that maybe it wasn't going to happen but now it looks as though it is!

- They haven't thought of a date yet - I told her my holiday dates which she needs to avoid unless she plans to invoke the 'wrath of 'rena*'
- They haven't thought through venues yet either, church or registry office? Decision still to be made...
- Party (the important part) location is probably a marque in their garden, which would provide the perfect, relaxed venue.
- Entertainment, has been decided and they are in complete agreement on this, Elvis. Really! He's alive and well and living in can picture that decision can't you, I mean it makes perfect sense, where else would the rhinestone king fit in without anyone noticing, somewhere he could slide into obscurity and live life like a normal person, Hertfordshire clearly ticks all the boxes!
- She's been thinking about dresses (aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggghhhhh!!! - Girlie screaming)
- No mention of a honeymoon, but then I didn't ask that question, I was way too excited at the thought of my friend getting married!

So the next question is - do I get a hat or not?

It's sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo exciting!

*Rena is what W has always called me

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Driving in snow is a skill, it's not like normal driving on dry or even wet roads, no, and there's more to it than just going slowly, although that helps.

I'm not sure who told me the rules for driving in snow, whether it was my parents (who had the delightful task of helping me to learn to drive a long, long time ago - back before they'd added nasty, sneaky things onto the test like the theory test and parallel (gulp) parking) or Simon...but I've always been aware that you should get into a higher gear as quickly as possible when moving off (but not with heaps of power) and when planning to slow down or stop to get into a low gear as quickly as possible - all this means is that you use the engine to slow the car down and don't have to jump on the brakes quickly.

I thought the Germans would all be prefectly trained at driving in snow, afterall the rest of life in Germany seems perfectly ordered - dogs are trained to walk off the lead next to the owner (Logan will, but at the first whiff of a squirrel or a cat and he'd be off, completely forgetting his green cross code and me) children take themselves to school and between buildings for lessons without supervision or bunking off, the leaves are all collected as soon as they've had the temerity to fall off the trees, bakers are open every day (bar about 2 weirdly exceptional bank holidays) I'm not just talking about trains running on time here. So I just kind of thought that as Germany is better prepared for snow than the UK (winter tyres, snow ploughs, gritters, non slip boots, pavement clearing) then surely there must be mandatory 'learn to drive in snow' lessons, especially as Germans love their BMWs (rear wheel drive and notoriously crap for driving in the snow). But no. And I have proof!!

Last week a day after a severe dumping of snow I was walking back along our road with Logan. Our road is not a main road, and not even a cut-through, the people who use it tend to live on it, so it doesn't get much traffic, it gets even less traffic after snow because unlike the 2 roads it joins it doesn't get plowed or gritted, it just gets compacted.
Today, one week on from the dumping, I think there's at least 2 inches solid ice on the road. Back to last week, as I walked along I saw a white BMW softtop almost at right angles to the pavement, stationary. As I got closer, the driver's window slid down and a woman appeared, a typical Kettwig 50+ hausfrau, all blonde hair and permatanned face, she was struggling to make her car go in the right direction, and as she floored the accelerator I could understand why. I was not at all keen to try to push the car straight, didn't trust her at all, so I told her she needed to go slow, VERY SLOW. This she did, and gradually the car straightened up and started to go in the direction she wanted it, she gave me a thumbs up sign and floored it again....
'LANGSAM*' I bellowed after her 'LANGSAM'.
I did enjoy that, legitimate shouting at Germans!
It was the highlight of last week!

Does your car have traction control? Mine does. Does you car have a light that comes on to distract you from the road when the traction control senses a loss in grip due to road conditions? Mine does. Does your car beep annoyingly when the aforementioned light comes on just to further distract you from the road? Mine does.
Why? That's what I want to know. You'd have to be really unaware of what was going on with your car if you need a light and a beep to draw attention to the fact that your car is no longer travelling smoothly in the direction that you're looking. All the light and the beep do is add another distraction to a suddenly tense situation, like you really need to be told, twice, that the reason you're no longer going straight on is because the traction control isn't working.

Simon loves driving in snow. He has an Audi Quattro so it's 'fun'. What isn't fun is being a passenger when he's driving in the snow, he might be in control and have fully intended for the car to have slid like that, but if I want a white knuckle ride I'll pay for it thank you very much, theme parks do it so much better! I don't think passing pedestrians enjoy the experience either, they're not to know that this great black car sliding around up the road is actually being carefully driven...

I still think the best advice of all for driving in snow is to stay home, why go out and risk it? I'm sure there's nothing urgent, nothing that can't wait.

*see word for the day

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thank F* it's February

Finally! January is done with for another year, and boy do I HATE January.

Why do I hate January (the queen of vomit has just asked), let's see how many reasons I can come up with:

  1. it comes straight afer the enforced jollity and gaiety of Christmas and New Year.
  2. after 2-3 weeks of Christmas lights in the house January seems DARK and DISMAL, the days don't get light until 8am it seems and the evenings start at 5pm, on a cloudy day it's quite possible to need lights on in the house at midday, I feel as though I'm living in middle earth with the hobbits.
  3. it's a LONGGGGGGGGGGGGGG month, funny how the 31 days of August and July seem to fly by whilst all 31 days of January drag their dirty heels.
  4. the weather is shite, and this year's has surpassed itself in its awfulness, have we had 2 consecutive days without snow on the ground? It really doesn't feel like it. We currently have frozen compacted snow on the road from 6 days ago that has had 2 dumpings on top of it since - and we're not talking minor dumpings here, oh no. It's now deep enough that the Germans' favourite dog (the dachshund) can no longer walk about without risking frozen balls at the very least.
  5. there are no bank holidays in January (I don't count January 1st - it's part of the whole Christmas/New Year thing)
  6. it's flipping ages till any holiday - Easter? End of March, that's 12 whole weeks away - we don't get half term here in Germany, 12 weeks of getting up in the dark, that's just barbaric.
  7. the shops are full of grebby sale stock, there's nothing pretty and exciting to see in the stores, that's if there's any money left over from the excesses of December!
  8. remember that song - 'january, sick and tired, you've been hanging on me' it's by Pilot, a Scottish band from the 70's, maybe that's the cause of my January hatred? Afterall, in 1975 it was in the charts for 10 weeks and in '75 I'd have been 10, probably a very formative age, maybe ever since then I've harboured a deep and (at times not so) secret loathing for the first month of the year...
And so to February? What is there that's so fantabulous about the month of Feb?

  1. it's not January!
  2. we're 31 days closer to SPRING.
  3. there's only 28 days (or 29 if we're unlucky) of February.
  4. shrove tuesday, they don't 'do' shrove Tuesday here in Germany, despite pfannkuchen (pancakes) being very popular. But it's great fun trying to explain the concept of Shrove Tuesday to a tame German (not quite as much fun as the explanation behind bonfire night - we put a guy, no, not a real guy, on a bonfire to commemorate the time in the 1600's when parliament was nearly blown up and then the people who were caught trying to do this were hung, drawn and quartered - which then leads onto the explanation of hung, drawn and quartered) also great fun getting your tame German to try to say the word 'shrove' I don't think they have the 'sh' sound in their vocab (they also struggle with 'th')
  5. valentines day - I personally demand chocolate, at the very least. And dinner cooked by my beloved - after 20 years of marriage he's got steak and mushrooms down to a fine art! A thoughtfully chosen gift would be nice but over optimistic, chocolate will have to suffice thanks darling!
  6. Karneval. Rosenmontag is (monday (snigger) sorry, private joke...) February 15th this year, it's like Shrove Tuesday (except that'd be a Tuesday) in that it moves around dependant upon Easter or something... So in this area the schools are off for the day so that the kids can dress up and go and stand outside in the freezing cold in Düsseldorf or Köln for 4-5 hours and watch the carnival procession go by and try to catch as many sweets that are thrown from the processional floats as possible - goodness knows why, most of it goes in the bin later anyway.
I'm trying hard to think of more reasons to lurve February but I seem to have hit a mental block.

Welcome February, good to see you at last, but don't be hanging around for too long!! I love March too, despite its 31 days....

*I wanted the title to be 'thank f**k it's february' but I made the fatal (and therefore not to be repeated error) of discussing this subject with Si, who tutted at me...